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DP James West uses Panasonic AG-HVX200 DVCPRO HD P2 camcorder to Crash the Super Bowl

Entrant's Check out Girl has chance to air during Super Bowl XLI By John Virata

For the first time in history, viewers had the chance to vote on what Doritos commercial will appear during the 2007 Super Bowl. Sponsored by Frito Lay, the "Crash the Super Bowl" challenge invited fans of the chips to create their own 30-second commercial showcasing the popular snack food. Of more than 1000 entries to the contest, five were chosen. Check out Girl, one of the five finalists of the challenge, was shot with Panasonic's AG-HVX200 DVCPRO HD P2 camcorder by Director of Photography James West, a 2005 graduate of the American Film Institute. DMN senior editor John Virata discusses how he got into the challenge as well as how he likes working with the Panasonic AG-HVX200 DVCPRO HD P2 camcorder.

DMN: At what age did you realize you wanted to shoot films and commercials and when did you graduate from AFI?
James West: When I was a kid growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, I became obsessed with our Super8 camera, and then our home video camera. I figured out ways of shooting and editing homemade music videos. Then as an undergrad photography major, I took a few film & video classes and made some 16mm film and ¾ inch videos.  I was about 30 or 31 when I realized I wanted to be a cinematographer, this was after 8 years of working as a still photographer in my hometown, Chicago. So I took off to L.A. to attend the American Film Institute, and graduated in May 2005.

James West on set. Photo by John Diehl.
DMN: When you started your courses at AFI, did you go in with the intention of shooting with video as opposed to film?
James West: Yes, I knew that video was starting to find its way into narrative filmmaking, especially with the 24p technology hitting the market. I started AFI in 2003, so I believe that was soon after the DVX100 was released.

DMN: How did AFI train you in this regard?
James West: The cinematography program at AFI is super intensive. The first year was basically a 9 month Boot Camp, which had us shooting film and digital video every week, never a day off except for the holidays. And we were always lighting for film and video, it was just like an experimental laboratory. Our instructors were Stephen Lighthill, ASC, and Bill Dill, ASC. One of Bill Dill’s famous quotes was “If you can quantify it, you can control it”, which sticks with me every day.

DMN: When did you graduate from AFI?
James West: In May of 2005, less than 2 years ago.

DMN: You've been using the AG-HVX200 DVCPRO HD P2 since summer 2006. What do you like about it compared to your previous camera?
James West: First of all I was looking for 24p and HD features that I didn’t have on my previous camera. Then there are the options for using various formats, besides shooting HD for clients, I’ve shot DVCPRO, and even miniDV 24p Standard Def. The solid-state media is great. The P2 cards are so durable and Panasonic provides the camera person with a great user-interface. Finally, I love the in-camera variable frame rate options, which allow you to quickly switch over to slow or fast motion.

DMN: Why did you go with the AG-HVX200 DVCPRO HD P2? Did you get to test it extensively before purchasing the camera?
James West: I believe that solid-state memory cards like the P2 are the future of digital filmmaking. There are so many directors and producers that want to use this technology. Getting rid of fragile spinning parts, like tape decks and hard drives, would really put us in the 21st century. I tested the camera out at Abel Cine Tech in Burbank, and then at the Panasonic booth at NAB 2006 in Vegas.

DMN: How does the P2 card solution work with your style of shooting?
James West: The P2 card workflow fits right in with narrative and commercial filmmaking. It's very similar to shooting film; you download and upload P2 cards, just like loading and unloading film magazines. You also have the ability to quickly review a shot, if necessary.

DMN: Have you experienced any limitations with the camera with the type of work that you do?
James West: For me, there is the fixed lens issue, of course. But there is the Pro35 lens adapter which allows the cinematographer to use a set of 35mm prime lenses if they need to. Also, I wish there was a better way to name your files as they're shot to help the editors out in post.

DMN: It is mentioned that your camera assistant downloaded the P2 content to a laptop and external hard drives as they became full. What laptop and hard drives were used on set and is there anything special about them?
James West: We used a Mac PowerBook G5 on set, which has a built in P2 card reader. We then downloaded the files to 2 LaCie 250GB external hard drives. One drive called the “shuttle drive” was brought into the editing bay for Post. The other drive we called the “archive drive” was just sealed up and kept in a safe storage place, only to be used in an emergency.

DMN: The editing was done by Kindra Marra on Avid's Media Composer with Avid Mojo SDI. How long were the editing sessions, and how many takes of the commercial were completed?
James West: We shot 4 Doritos commercial spots in 2 days. The contest allowed us to enter multiple commercials, but “Check Out Girl” pulled ahead in popularity. For post-production, Kristin Dehnert, the writer/director, and Kindra spent around 4-5 hours a day for two weeks to cut the ads. They made several cuts of the commercial, but they went back to their first cut for the final version.

DMN: Shooting was completed in three hours. How many hours of footage did you shoot in total?
James West: For the “Check Out Girl” spot, we shot 35 minutes of footage. For all 4 spots, we shot a total of 6 8GB P2 cards or approximately 120 minutes. That's in the 720PN mode, which gives the user 20 minutes per card.

DMN: How long did it take to edit and finish the commercial?
James West: Kristin and Kindra spent 2 weeks, part-time, to edit and finish all 4 spots.

DMN: How did you hear about the Crash the Superbowl Challenge?
James West: Kristin called me up and said she had some great ideas for this Doritos contest. I loved her ideas and jumped on board!

DMN: Have you worked with the commercial’s writer/director Kristin Dehnert in the past?
James West: Yes, in September/October, I filmed a short documentary about Autism for Kristin that will air on Current TV in early 2007. We also used the HVX200 for that one!

DMN: Being among the five finalists out of more than 1000 entries is a huge accomplishment. Congratulations.
James West: Thank you!

To view the five finalists, visit

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John Virata is senior editor of Digital Media Online. You can email him at [email protected]
Related Keywords:Panasonic AG-HVX200 DVCPRO HD P2 camcorder, James West, Kindra Marra , Kristin Dehnert, Crash the Super Bowl challenge,

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